The Oregonian reported yesterday afternoon on an alarming road rage incident in SE Portland:
According to the report, 31-year-old Kevin Stevenson and his girlfriend Kate Darnall were riding east on East Burnside near Sandy at 1AM Wednesday night when a car passed closely by them. Stevenson yelled and the car and it backed up.
KPTV adds that Kate Darnall's father, Keith Darnall, said Stevenson saw the driver run a stop sign. (Though this seems suspect to me because there are no stop signs on that stretch of East Burnside. Maybe he meant stop light?)
The story from there gets hazy, but Keith Darnall told the Oregonian that his daughter described a scene in which Stevenson leaned into the car window. Then, according to Darnall, the driver and passenger grabbed Stevenson and dragged him along next to the car for 150 feet "until his shoes were in tatters."
The police were called for help and Stevenson wound up in the Oregon Burn Center, which confirms that Stevenson is still in serious condition today. He has injuries on his heels, legs, knees, shoulder and back.
This kind of violent, terrifying story is, sadly, not unheard of. A Fox News writer was accused of ramming a cyclist in New York's Central Park and dragging him 200 feet earlier this year when the cyclist asked him to slow down.
What's upsetting about The O article is they feel the need to slide in this observation: "Wheat said the injured man suffered road rash, and his shoe was torn up. He was riding a bicycle without gears or brakes."
Now why point out that and not any other safety issues involved? Were the car drivers wearing seatbelts? Was Stevenson wearing a helmet? Tossing in the reference to fixed gears throws Stevenson into a category that is often stereotyped and played up in pop culture and the news.
Bike lawyer Mark Ginsberg says that calling the bike brakeless and gearless is sloppy reporting. "That's like saying that she was wearing a red dress when she got raped. That's the extreme example, but unless the vehicle's mechanics were related to the incident, reporting on that is inflammatory at best."
The effects of the pigeonholing is clear in the comments on the Oregonian piece:
"im gonna go out on a limb here and say if you are out at 1:15 am riding a bike with no brakes then you probably not the type to just let it go. that time of night in that area, pretty much means most out are up to no good." —PDXDAN
The stretch of road where this occurred is notoriously dangerous for bikes. Although it finally broke ground this week, the plan to make Burnside and Couch safer one-way streets is a decade overdue.
It's also worth pointing out that while cyclists have the right to bike on all streets, there is a much safer bike route (SE Ankeny) that runs parallel to E Burnside. But for the past several weeks, Ankeny has been torn up with construction, closed off to traffic with no safe detour option laid out for bikes. I'm not certain whether Ankeny was still under construction Wednesday night, but some cyclists have been avoiding the bike route altogether for the past few weeks, unsure of whether it will be open.
UPDATE: The police officer who responded to the scene said he saw "no indication" that Stevenson was dragged. Check out the full update here.